They find Max passed out at the edge of the territory, chain wrapped around her ankle, her ride smoking in the distance. Furiosa is too familiar with the sight to conjure up rage anymore. She’s just tired, weary for her mad desert wanderer.
One of the boys, tawny without Old Joe's war paint, pulls her eagerly towards the miraculous stranger. "Fertile and whole," he exclaims, pointing at the ink set into Max's back. He grins, gap-toothed and full of pride at having found a treasure so valuable.
They're still learning, she tells herself. Anger won't fix them.
"Do you want us to bring her to your room, Imperator?"
She wishes she could shed that title, but it only seems to stick harder the more she fights it. Maybe it’s what she deserves, this unwanted brand on her skin. A constant reminder of who she was and could still be.
"No. Don't touch her. No one will disturb her as long as she's here. Understand?"
He nods, though it’s clear he doesn't.
"She's special," he half asks, squinting in the sun as he stares up at her.
He means sacred, magical. The stories the Vuvalini tell of goddesses falling from the stars and growing up from the earth.
She says nothing, lifting Max over her shoulders and carrying her to the safety of the cliffs.
Max doesn't stay unconscious for long, startling into wakefulness the moment Furiosa gets her on the pallet. She jerks upright, eyes wild, hand flying to her forehead.
Furiosa backs off, waiting for her to absorb her surroundings and stop seeking escape routes.
"Max," and Max jumps at the sound of her name, turning to meet Furiosa’s careful gaze. They're frozen like this for a long moment before exhausted relief falls across her face.
"It's you," Max says, slurring and rough-voiced, listing to the side. “She brought me here again.”
Confident that Max understands where she is at least, Furiosa comes closer and starts removing Max’s heavy boots, taking one between her knees for leverage and yanking it off.
"Who brought you here, Max?"
She doesn't answer, already collapsing into restless sleep. Fondness wells up inside Furiosa as she pulls off the other boot to reveal a pink, callused foot. Max brings out ridiculous emotions in her. Gentle, soft things she thought she’d lost along with her freedom.
But the warmth is short-lived. The chain, tight and hot around Max's good leg, serves as a reminder of how much danger still lies waiting for her outside these walls. Furiosa feels despair howl inside, loud but useless. It’s with her all the time now, a malfunctioning engine that never runs out of fuel.
"I'm going to cut this off you."
The bolt cutters make quick work of the metal cuff and she unwraps the rest, soothing deep welts with Dag’s aloe salve.
“Why do you do this to yourself, foolish woman?”
Max only mutters sleepily in response, burrowing deeper into the blanket.
Furiosa doesn't know what's happened to her fool since she left them, and she doesn't plan to ask. She only hopes it was enough to persuade her to stay this time.
("You know, hope is a mistake.”)
"A shower?" Incredulous, Max undresses, shaking dust out of her shirt before dropping it.
"Yes. We've got enough now with the new pipe system. Enough to clean ourselves with plenty to spare for drinking and crops."
“She and Capable’s boys set it up not too long ago.”
You’d have already known if you’d been here, she doesn’t say.
Max is surprisingly coherent this time around, though no more verbose than she ever was, bouncing back alarmingly fast from whatever caught up with her on the Fury Road.
She’s used to it, Furiosa thinks bitterly, the fear and violence. It's the comfort that scares her away.
Carelessly naked now, Max paws at her heavy, matted hair, eyebrows drawn down in consternation. Furiosa smirks, turning the rusted metal crank that lets the water flow in a gentle stream from the rocks.
"Dreadlocked dog. When you’re finished, I'll cut your hair.”
Furiosa likes doing it. Likes how docile and trusting Max becomes, patient under the blade. Likes touching the tender skin at her neck.
Max leans down under the stream and groans, sloughing off days upon days of salt, blood, and oil. Furiosa takes in her rounded hips, her arms and thighs, heavily muscled from toil. She's pale where the sun can’t reach under her clothes, and her breasts are heavy, pulled low and mottled brown at the tips. Wild curls form a fluffy triangle between her legs, sparse hair dusting down her thighs and calves and under her arms. Her belly is flat, almost concave after so much time surviving on desert vermin, but dark, ragged veins stretch from navel to mound. The mark of a belly once full with child.
After a moment, she realizes she's been caught staring. Max meets her heated gaze, but makes no remark.
Fertile and whole, the boy had told her. One of these is true.
In the night, lying sated and idle in her bed, Furiosa traces the words on Max’s back. The full moon's light shoots through gaps in the craggy ceiling.
“Why didn’t he take you?” she asks, running fingers over the ‘F,’ then the ‘E.’
“Who?” The bones under her hand shift as Max turns over.
“Joe. Why didn’t he take you for a wife?”
“Ah. Well,” she runs a hand through her newly cropped hair, “old bastard said I was too ugly.”
She grins at Furiosa, as if this is the highest compliment anyone’s ever paid her, the best joke, and Furiosa can’t help it--she laughs. She rolls over on top of Max and laughs and laughs, feeling Max’s low chuckles rumble underneath her.
She laughs until she feels nearly sick with it, then wraps around Max and holds tight. The air suddenly feels too heavy.
“Don’t make me beg you,” Furiosa whispers fiercely, digging her fingers into Max’s shoulders, pressing her gritted teeth to her breast. Don’t leave me on my knees again.
Max says nothing at all, of course, just holds her with her eyes turned towards the open sky.
The sisters embrace Max with obvious joy, save for Toast who stands at Furiosa’s side like a loyal knight from one of Giddy’s stories.
“Is she staying this time?”
Furiosa watches Max submit to a hug from Cheedo as Capable chatters excitedly about which plants have taken root this season.
“Furiosa. It isn’t fair to you, this coming and going. It isn’t fair to any of us.”
The Dag's little boy is nearly up to Max’s knees now, and gives her a gentle kiss on the cheek when she leans down to cup his head.
“Leave it,” Furiosa tells her, “she might never come back if you scold her.”
“Maybe that would be for the best.”
Furiosa looks at her wisest sister, and for one moment, nearly hates her.
Days later, they sit on top of the cliff, the moon now only a sliver but the stars as bright as oil drum fires.
(“Mothers of the past and future, Furiosa. Every one of them.”)
Max lies with her head in Furiosa’s lap, has been quiet and far away for hours. Perhaps this is why Furiosa’s so surprised when she says:
“I had a daughter.”
Her hand stills in Max’s hair.
“Sprog. That’s what I called her. I don’t remember her real name.”
She stays silent, waiting, her heart in her throat.
“She follows me. Chases me. Asks why I won’t help her. And no matter how much I want to,” she takes a shaky breath.
Furiosa reaches for Max’s hands, squeezes them tight.
“When I’m here, with you, she doesn’t scream for me or stand waiting. She’s just… gone.”
Max looks up at her then, eyes full of unimaginable pain.
“Furiosa, she brought me to you. She always brings me to you, but then she leaves. And I can’t… I can’t. Please.”
Furiosa leans over and presses her forehead hard to Max’s, connecting touch passed down from her ancestral mothers. Prays to whoever will listen.
Protect my beautiful, broken love, Valkyrie, Mary Jo. Bless her with courage, Angharad.
“I’m glad she brings you to me. I’m glad. If she gives you to me, then I love her too.”
In the morning, they work in the gardens, watching Dag teach her boy to carve out space in the earth for new seeds. Max is quiet, always and forever quiet, but a strange peace has come over her, a settled look that Furiosa has never seen on her face before.
Toast approaches them at a steady, determined pace, stopping in front of Max. Her impassive expression covers scrutinty as sharp as windburn.
“Your ride is patched up. So you can take it and go, if that’s what you want.”
Max grunts and Furiosa holds her breath, digging her hand into the grass.
“Keep it,” Max tells her simply, “I don’t need it."
(“One day, the Mothers of the Skies will return to bless the earth, and all will rejoice.”)